Detroit Optimistic Following Bankruptcy

CVB and Cobo officials see no disruption in business

Destination management officials in Detroit say it's business as usual following the city's decision to file for bankruptcy back in July.

The city's move to Chapter 9 protection had been expected by many in the tourism industry. "We knew the bankruptcy was a strong possibility for a long time," said Bill Bohde, senior vice president of sales and marketing at the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau. "This is going to be a painful process over the next months, but we feel we're going to have a stronger city when we're done."

Shortly after news broke about the bankruptcy, industry leaders began an extensive outreach effort to reassure meeting planners and their attendees that Detroit remains a safe and thriving destination.

In terms of funding, the DMCVB subsists on membership dues and hotel assessments, and takes no money from the city. Similarly, the Cobo Convention Center, now undergoing a $279 million renovation, also is funded by sources other than the city itself.

Since the bankruptcy, "We've had a steady flow of site inspections, and the pace of business has been normal," said Thom Connors, Cobo's general manager. According to Connors, the center will host about 18 citywide meetings next year, twice the amount the facility was handling three or four years ago.

"Business from the hospitality standpoint couldn't get much better," Bohde said. "Hotels are running at extremely high occupancy, and none of our conventions that were planned and committed has reneged on those commitments."

Rod Alberts, executive director of the North American International Auto Show, which is contracted to use the Cobo Center through 2017, has "zero concern" about managing his convention, set for Jan. 13-26, 2014. "There are always challenges with running a show, so my game doesn't change," Alberts said. "We'll still be working with the city and whatever other services we need to make sure everything's taken care of."

Others, however, were not so sanguine. In a recent M&C Research poll, 37 percent of meeting professionals said they were less likely to meet in the city as a result of its bankruptcy filing (for details, click here).